"Our story is like a sob story, beyond belief," said Jeff Nicholson on Saturday afternoon, as he struggled to explain what had happened to his Olympic plans.
Half a year ago, the Canadian man and his wife bought airfare to South Korea with some friends, then assembled a dream itinerary at Pyeongchang.
They grabbed tickets to the women's hockey gold medal game, the two men's hockey semifinal games and the men's curling gold medal game. A ticket for the latter alone cost $150.
Nicholson, a middle-school teacher in Tokyo, didn't blink at the price – this was a pass to basking in Canadian victory, the kind of trip you brag about to buddies years later. "We bought tickets for a Canada final," he said Saturday at the men's curling match.
But the only Canadians to be found at the Gangneung Curling Centre were, like him, sitting in the stands.
On the ice, Sweden and the U.S. traded ends while Canadian fans exchanged misery.
"Canada was very heavily –favoured to be in the gold medal match, and we all assumed," said Jason Thompson, a Canadian who works at a mine in Mongolia. He had arranged to meet his Edmonton-based partner in South Korea and bought tickets to big air, curling and hockey, including the men's gold medal game on Sunday. Tickets for that match cost about $1,000 each.
But Canada won't be on the ice there, either.
It's all "very disappointing," said Thompson, who plans to go anyway. "It's nice to hang out with Canadian fans and cheer on the athletes, win or lose. It's all about sport."
And for those capable of locating them, there were Canadian curling champions to be found at the Olympics. Derek Currie, a Canadian who teaches at a South Korean university, discovered mixed doubles winners John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes at Canada Olympic House, where athletes, fans and families go to drink, cheer – and, these last few days, commiserate.
On Saturday, as he watched U.S. and Sweden curl, Currie tried to make the best of it. "Between the curling and the hockey, it's been a little bit sad. But we've done well in ski cross and many other sports, so it's been a pretty good Olympics," he said.
Canada secured medals in nine sports this Olympics, second only to the U.S. with 11 – including, of course, curling.
On Saturday, as if to rub in U.S. success at a sport in which Canada had never failed to medal until Pyeongchang, Ivanka Trump came to watch.
Nick Fish and Jesse Pearlman, American English teachers in Korea, couldn't quite believe the turn of events.
"I'm honestly just shocked – all these big matches and Canada is not winning them?" said Fish.
"It's phenomenal to actually be a part of that glory," added Pearlman.
But he was more sympathetic than gloating.
"I'm a Patriots fan. I'm from Boston. So I understand what it's like to be expected to win and then lose. It's tough, man," he said. Disappointed Canadians "have the right to be upset," he said. He offered a word of advice: "you gotta look back at all the past championships."
For some Canadians, though, the reversals in Olympic fortunes produced unexpected serendipity. Torontonians Ian Toye and Grace Volpe were so keen to watch the women's curling semifinal Friday that they had a Korean friend help them buy tickets at an advanced sale for locals.
But instead of a Canadian game, they landed at a nail-biter won by South Korea, whose team's unexpected prowess has made it the hottest ticket of the Olympics. The two Canadians decided to join the home crowd. Volpe drew a sign cheering on the South Korea curlers nicknamed Pancake, Sunny, Steak and Annie.
"They're amazing. I love their nicknames and I love that they have, like, nerves of steel. They never show stress or anything," Volpe said.
"We're having a great time," said Toye, surrounded by raucous local fans. "It's a great atmosphere."
Some German spectators, too, got an unexpected gift when their hockey tickets suddenly became a chance to see their own men's team compete for gold Sunday, after Germany beat Canada to advance to the final.
"Who would have thought that Germany would even make it to the semifinals, or anywhere close?" said businessman Thierry Verreet. He bought tickets to the game fully expecting to see Canadian action on the ice.
"Now that Germany is playing, it makes it even more exciting," he said.
"I heard that now a lot of Canadian people are selling their tickets. Maybe some Germans are going to grab them."
If not, he hopes Canadian fans will join in rooting for Germany against Russia.
All of which sounded reasonable to Jeff Nicholson, who sat beside Verreet at the men's curling final Saturday.
"I want you to win. Kick Russia's ass. Please!" he said.
"That would be awesome," Verreet replied.
"We love the countries that can do it when they need to," Mr. Nicholson said.
Mr. Verreet, for his part, was just grateful the Canadians showed up at the curling game, with their flag and their maple leaf toques. Without them, the final would have possessed all the liveliness of a morgue.
"You're the only one creating an atmosphere here," Mr. Verreet told Mr. Nicholson appreciatively.
Mr. Nicholson stood and bellowed.
"Sweeeeden for the wiiiiiiin!!"
A few minutes later, the U.S. team won, 10-7.
Nicholson, however, had already fortified himself against all bad news.
He had Crown Royal and Coke, he said. "It brought us through everything."